Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Alex Stevenson Article Review

Bevir M, 1994, West turns Eastward, Journal of the American Academy of Religion,62,3, 747-767.

Bevir (1994), seems to see the adoption of Eastern mysticism and occultism into a conventional Christian Western culture as an inherent product of cultural and spiritual appropriation – one in which most cases lead to an amalgam of conventional liberal Christian ideology and the more appealing and spiritually enriching concepts of Indian religion lacking in Western belief with little regard for the intrinsic paradox this might create. Bevir, however, outlines a second option in the form of Madam Blavatsky who quite successfully attempted to fully understand Indian mysticism and its various occult practices and transport them into Victorian England, while at the same time, adopting the various dogmatic and cosmological approaches of Hinduism and Buddhism to engender a much more meaningful ideological shift towards the East. Blavatsky seems to have stood counter to her contemporaries’ conventional ideas of spirituality within Western culture, seeing her new notions of occultism and magic as not entirely separate to spiritualism, but rather a greater transcendent whole of which spiritualism, nature and even science were parts.

In this sense then, Blavatsky can be seen as an integral and necessary step in the integration of Eastern mysticism and occultism into the greater consciousness of Western society. She attempted to rationalize beliefs which were essentially culturally disconnected from the West with already burgeoning forms of pseudo-Christian and Eastern European ritualism to form an identifiably uniform ideal of spiritualistic religion. This in turn, according to Bevir, provided an existing framework for further development of Eastern mysticism within a conventional Western society in which elements of both Eastern and Western spiritual ideologies could be traded back and forth to provide a much fuller form of religious fulfillment, conveniently able to navigate around various scientific and sociological problems which could not be wholly addressed by either belief system.

Winkelman M, 1997, ‘Altered States of Consciousness and Religious Behavior’, in Glazier S, Ed. Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook of Method and Theory. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 393 - 428.

Winkelman (1997) essentially argues, much like Bevir, that mysticism provides an avenue for exploring fundamentally inaccessible forms of spiritual and emotional advancement for those of a conventionally Western Christian tradition. He argues that where conventional Western religious tradition has failed to provide paths to alternative views of being and altered states of mind, other forms ritual and spiritual worship have filled the gap, creating alternative possibilities for people to transcend cultural norms and engage with their own inner development via foreign methods of contemplation and mysticism.

Winkelman accepts that this approach is not wholly feasible to most members of Western society, and cites the steadily increasing use of alcohol and drugs as a means of people attempting to connect with their inner selves and gaining transcendent experience. This leads him to the conclusion that humanity is essentially reliant on specific forms of spiritual enrichment, eventuating in an examination of global shamanism and its origins and purpose. He argues that its inherent connection with healing and divination indicate a link to essential needs of human development, and as such, shamanic and ASC experiences are inevitable consequences of societal growth.

To further this argument, he cites physiological studies which map brain responses to various stimuli and ASC experiences both drug and non drug related resulting in similar reactions, suggesting an inherent common underlying neurobiochemical pathway.

Unfortunately, Winkelman’s studies do not fully explain the role or necessity of shamanism in ASC based spirituality or indeed its spread into Western conventional religion. Rather, it provides an integral initial point for further study, discussing the means and needs for ASC neglected by traditional Western religiosity, but lacks further context to fully explain its usefulness in a broader academic sense.

Driver, T. F. 1991, The Magic of Ritual: Our Need for Liberating Rites that Transform Our Lives and Our Communities. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Driver (1991) attempts to explain the amalgamation of ritual, magic and alternate spirituality from a modern Western social cultural context by examining the means by which understanding of these foreign spiritual concepts are performed and acted out. He explores the means by which participants are made essential to the process being carried out by the spiritual guide and the ways in which their involvement lend credence to a service which may be entirely governed by ritualistic involvement.

To explore this further, he examines a Korean healing ritual in which communal harmony is achieved via a ceremony to cure a particular individual of their ills. This illustrates the need for shamanic practice as a shared form of spirituality rather than an individual one. This is further heightened by comparisons to Christian masses in which collective spiritual energy is harnessed to combat greater social problems, even on an international basis.

In this sense then, Driver provides a framework by which modern collective spirituality may be discussed and examined, providing a valuable means to appraise and explore ASC and shamanic practice as a valid form of spiritual and social enrichment. It is through this mode that we as academics are able to discuss various greater social and spiritual interactions by developing a greater understanding of the means by which different religious values are informed and continued into daily use.

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